Edward Snowden tried to take part in a panel discussion at a technology conference on Saturday — but was left embarrassed when his video call was repeatedly interrupted.
Speaking at FutureFest, a conference in London held by a charity named Nesta, he used Google Hangouts to participate from Moscow.
Since leaking NSA documents in 2013, Snowden can’t travel in person to events around the world (he’ll likely be arrested), so this is the next best thing.
Google Hangouts allow multiple people take part in online video calls. Snowden was in the video call using a Google profile under the name of “Ben,” but whoever set up the call hadn’t locked down the privacy settings. That meant that anyone could join — and they did.
First up was a man sitting on his bed, who started laughing when he realised that he was on a video call with Edward Snowden. It looked like he was chatting to someone on the phone, too. Snowden joked about the unexpected visitor, remarking “I see a guy in his bed.”
Snowden didn’t seem to mind, but then the visitor unmuted his microphone to talk and his phone started loudly ringing, drowning out Snowden’s comments. He was quickly booted from the call.
All was well, for a while. Snowden explained that governments use long words to describe mass surveillance, which he argues is a trick to make people accept widespread privacy violations. But then someone else joined the video call. They seemed surprised to be there, shouting “holy sh*t!”
Snowden looked annoyed. He was in the middle of a key point, and suddenly someone had appeared on the call and swore at him. A Nesta employee scrambled to mute the intruder before he could make anymore noise.
We talked to Ilan Katin, the man who interrupted the call. He told Business Insider that he didn’t mean to prank Snowden — and he swore because he wasn’t expecting the Google Hangout to be public, let alone broadcasting live on multiple giant screens at the FutureFest venue.
He said that he was embarrassed over what had happened. “Wanted to see/hear but not be heard,” Katin said.
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